The playwright Samuel Beckett once said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” If we didn’t give ourselves permission to fail, then we’d never learn what we needed to learn in order to eventually succeed. In order for people to fail better, we need leaders and managers who can appreciate how people fail. Otherwise, ‘innovation’ will remain a buzzword.
But not everyone experiences failure in the same way. More importantly, if you polled a hundred people they wouldn’t even agree on what failure meant. For a social butterfly, missing the company’s annual holiday party would feel like a loss. For an introvert, it would feel like a victory.
As we mulled over what failure meant to us we realized we already have a handy guide on how failure feels to different people. Everything DiSC® provides a simple but effective framework for understanding how people’s preferred work styles come into play when they inevitably fail. Here’s how it breaks down by basic type:
The D style is the most results-oriented style, so for them, driving progress to reach ambitious goals feels natural—even exciting!—except for the failure part. For a D-style, failure could mean a loss of control combined with feelings of vulnerability and exposure. When faced with failure, a D-style responds well to a quick and direct analysis of the situation, followed by realistic, big-picture recommendations for changing course. Their focus toward results and tendency toward fast action will help the group recover from failure efficiently and effectively.
For the i style, failure can feel personal. Like the D style, the i style is drawn to big and ambitious goals, although theirs tend to be more colorful or novelty. With their preference toward enthusiasm and collaboration, an i style might feel a personal loss of status or regard among their peers when they don’t succeed. They may even feel that a group failure is a personal failure. To move on from failure, acknowledge the importance of the i style’s feelings, stay optimistic, and be open to creative solutions. Given their enthusiasm for collaboration, they’ll bring value to finding a new solution.
The S style is oriented toward others and prioritizes group harmony. The S style also tends to be more stressed by big, ambitious goals—especially at a fast pace. When failure presents itself, an S-style might worry about how the loss is taken by others, or how the group dynamic might be negatively impacted. If they go looking for the cause of the failure, they often wonder where they personally fell down on the path to success. To recover from failure, it’s important to respect their cautious pace, set an action plan that fits everyone’s needs and show you sincerely care about resolving the issue. Their tendency to support and listen will be critical in creating a team culture that can experience and learn from failure.
For the C style, there’s a strong tendency toward accuracy. While they enjoy a challenge, risky ideas or decisions made with incomplete information can cause stress. Failure under these circumstances can be especially painful because the C-style may have been skeptical about the whole idea in the first place. Instead of wishing bolder choices were made, they will zero in on the time they warned the group to be more careful. To move forward, offer space and time for processing the failure, share suggestions supported with logic and facts and avoid forceful tactics that place unnecessary blame. Their skepticism and accuracy will prove valuable in the next iteration.
Once leaders and managers agree that failure is essential, they must make sure that failure isn’t treated the same for everyone. If you know a leader or manager who’s ready to embrace failure as the bedrock of success, pass along this post about how DiSC can help. Then they’ll be—pun intended—failing with style.